Last week, Attorney General Kathleen Kane brought criminal charges against eight players, including former state Sen. Bob Mellow - who is already serving time in prison on corruption charges - former top brass at the commission and two vendors. The charges include conspiracy, commercial bribery, bid-rigging, theft and conflict of interest. Commission staff allegedly would shake down vendors for campaign contributions for Mellow and others as well as gifts for commission honchos. Vendors who didn't play didn't get contracts.
One witness likened it to a river where all the animals come to drink, explaining, "You go to the turnpike because that is where the money is."
Except, the money isn't: Since 2007, the commission has tripled its $2.6 billion debt, which now stands at $8.3 billion. Tolls have risen every year - 71 percent since 2009. And those are the tolls we know about. No one has asked if this corruption has led to human toll.
There are two quick and simple routes to discouraging this kind of pay-to-play culture. The first: term limits for the General Assembly. The second: campaign limits. Pennsylvania has embarrassingly lax campaign-finance laws that do nothing to discourage the frantic drive for large contributions. It's time for the voters who galvanized around legislative pay raises to take up the cause again - for more lasting change.
As champions of public conversations, especially about tough subjects, we'd be remiss in not pointing out a discussion on race to be held at the Constitution Center tonight. Problem is, the talk, sponsored by Philadelphia Magazine, prompted by the controversy over its cover story, "Being White in Philly," is not so much a talk as yet another branding opportunity for the magazine to portray itself as edgy and relevant when it is too self-satisfied to be either. The firestorm created by the story was not about race, but about irresponsible journalism. Daily News contributor Solomon Jones will serve on the panel, so it won't be a complete waste. It's at 6:30 p.m. at the Convention Center.
Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists hosts a discussion with the magazine in the Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News public speaking room, at 801 Market Street. Reserve a seat: http://www.event brite.com/event/5854654429